A Tale of Two Submarines

It seems Russian officials and media are deliberately confusing the facts about Swedish submarine sightings.

Russian submarines are seen in Vladivostok, July 25, 2010
Russian submarines are seen in Vladivostok, July 25, 2010 (USN/Colby Drake)

The news of a suspected foreign submarine in Swedish waters attracted massive media coverage last year. The Swedish Navy, a shadow of its former self after more than a decade of budget cuts, launched an intelligence-gathering operation to secure evidence of the intrusion. In November, the navy presented what it considered to be concrete proof of an intrusion by a foreign submarine. This included sonar tracks and a photograph, both of which had been subjected to detailed technical analysis and were made public.

Last week, the Swedish Navy said that another suspected submarine sighting, in late October, had been dismissed after extensive investigation which found that the suspected vessel was in fact a “workboat.” This second observation was made a full week after the original intelligence-gathering operation concluded and was treated by Swedish defense as a separate event.

Nevertheless, this week, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs encouraged its Twitter followers to “Please update your #RussianSubmarineInSwedishWaters files, as we did,” with links to a news item about the previously mentioned statement, published by RT. This is strange for two reasons.

First, the hashtag #RussianSubmarineInSwedishWaters was apparently created on April 13, which means it wasn’t included to facilitate references to tweets from last year. The Swedish Navy never claimed to have established the nationality of either suspected submarine. Some defense experts made public statements to the effect that only the Russians would have the capability and motive to infiltrate Swedish waters but no official statements were made along those lines. Consequently, the quick Russian response seems unwarranted. If they had nothing to do with it, and haven’t been formally accused of playing any role, why are they so eager to bring this matter up so quickly?

The second strange thing about the RT story linked in the tweet is that it describes the dismissal of the second submarine sighting as an acknowledgement that the whole intelligence-gathering operation was a wild goose chase. TASS also published a short news item on the subject, in which the same angle was presented. The RT article went one step further, however, pointing the finger at the Swedish media, accusing them of exaggeration while saying that Russian and Swedish (!) naval officials had “maintained that there was no substance to the report.”

It seems the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and RT doth protest too much, to paraphrase Shakespeare. They may have got their facts mixed up, which is a possibility, albeit an unlikely one since the embedded YouTube clip at the bottom of the RT news item shows that their source is a story from The Local which includes a clear statement that the second submarine sighting and the original intelligence-gathering operation were two separate events. Or, they seized upon this opportunity to spread disinformation and discredit the Swedish Navy, deliberately mixing up the two events. Since Russia has proven itself quite adept at using information to further its agenda in other areas, it does not seem too farfetched to suggest that the latter alternative warrants some consideration.

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